Don’t Put Sharp Knives in Soapy Water

Let me tell you a story, a true story: When I was in elementary or early junior high school, we went on a family camping trip to Lake Chelan in Washington State. I should first give you a peek into how my parents viewed camping as they had their own unique and very broad definition of the activity—no tents, no sleeping bags, no Coleman stove, and no outhouse. Ours was a mobile home/camper type experience that maintained some of the comforts of home. One of my memories from this trip is my father grilling outside in the rain as we sat patiently waiting inside. Dad was holding a metal garbage can cover over the grill to keep the food from getting drenched. He was wearing his white baseball coaching jacket, an “older” pair of dress slacks, and his old wing tip shoes. Are you getting the picture?

One day we were standing on the dock waiting for a boat when my dad realized he had left Photo 1something in the camper that he wanted. I, being an active, athletic young kid, volunteered to run back for the item and asked for the keys to the camper. I was eager to dash off, but my dad told me to stop so he could explain the trickiness of the lock. I impatiently listened (well, pretended I was listening) to his instructions. “I got it,” I said (as I have been reminded of dozens of times), “what do you think I am, a dumb kid or something? I got it!” I quickly ran off and, as you can guess, this did not turn out well. I could not get the lock open and sheepishly ran back for help. I felt foolish, was embarrassed, and guilty as charged. My dad said little and just gave me a look (his look) that said all that needed to be said, “You should have listened!”

Photo 2

When my sister and I were young, Sundays were the days we had to do the dishes (no dishwasher in those days!). We would fill the kitchen sink with dish detergent and hot water. Suds flowed to the top of the sink as dishes, knives, and silverware were thrown in. I remember feeling tentative as I put my hands in the soapy water wondering where the Photo 3sharp knives were. Mom would say, “Be careful, there are some sharp knives in there!” I would respond with a flippant, “I know!” when what I meant to say was “What do you think I am, a dumb kid or something?” Most times I was successful in navigating blindly through the soapy water yet, at times—with too much confidence and little regard to Mom’s loving reminder—there would be a jab and cut of the hand. I would yell for help which arrived a bit slow with a glancing look that said, “I told you to be careful.”

As I’ve reflected on my life I realize these stories (and others) reveal a personality quirk that, at times, had served me well, but more often than not, and has been a barrier to success, substance, and intimacy in the past.

When Pride Gets in the Way

Much like when I was a kid, I have found there have been times in my professional life when I didn’t want advice from others despite the fact they were well-meaning and informed and were looking out for my best interests. How ignorantly prideful I was!

I tend to approach my work with a laser-like focus in order to maximize performance. I pull together everything I feel is needed to excel at a task and take great pride in being able to say “I DID IT!” I love the sense of confidence that comes when a task is well done. In the past, I have not solicited or wanted input or feedback from others as I believe I have things well thought out. I think I can do it on my own and it will become a benchmark of personal accomplishment. Today, I look at tasks so differently!

Why did I react this way? Perhaps I feared that my self-confidence, or pride, or the sense of accomplishment would be diminished if I accepted outside help. Perhaps I viewed advice as a lack of trust in my ability and I wanted to prove them wrong. Or was my self-esteem based on my performance? Did I have a learned belief that asking for help or accepting help was a weakness that diminished the sense of satisfaction in successfully achieving a task? I now recognize, that graciously leaning into outside input is a strength, that advice or help is given out of a caring desire to support my success.

Embrace the value of what others have to offer. Listen to the heart of what is being said.

Reflecting on these experiences (and others) I have come to realize a critical life, business, and relationship lesson: Being a lone wolf has risks and can be isolating. Listening to what is offered by others—beyond the words—to the substance behind the words—is critical and pays huge growth and relationship dividends.

Listening Beyond the Words

This is true in business when dealing with my clients. I’ve learned to listen beyond the words that are being said, to the real message and intent. I work hard to listen carefully, and try not to be too quick to take control of the conversation, but rather delve into purposeful communication, ask clarifying questions, and create a meaningful dialogue. Attempting to always be in control can be and most often will be destructive to a great trusting and intimate relationship. I now do my best (not perfect) to recognize that allowing others to be “in control” of the conversation can enhance the business and personal relationship. I have learned that this overriding attitude and behavior will slowly develop deeper trust by allowing for an engagement that will have lasting value.

What has been the outcome of this personal paradigm shift? My understanding of the other person’s desired outcome has been crystalized enabling a more meaningful solution and action plan. There is a healthy give-and-take of questions and discussion. I find the relationship becomes stronger as it is built on respect, value, trust, and communication. This discovery, had I discovered it sooner, would have helped me navigate the soapy waters and open camper doors a bit more easily in my professional life and caused less pain in my personal life.

Allowing intentionality, intimacy, vulnerability, and graciousness in all aspects of business, life partner relationships, and faith is the foundation of happiness, fulfillment, and wonder.

A while back I read a book a friend had written entitled, Beginnings. What struck me as I read it was that I was going through my own new beginning of understanding how to be better in a variety of aspects: my professional role, my relationships, being more patient. . . essentially, being “a better Bob” in how I use the gifts I’ve been given. I’m learning to embrace and value true relationships through openness, trust, and acceptance of meaningful and loving input from others. This attitude has created greater value than being the lone wolf that I once thought was such a hallmark. The result: I am better at what I do for my clients and in how I foster and deepen my personal relationships.

Final thought: Here’s something to reflect on, a quote I recently came across: “If you are the smartest person (or think you are) in the room, you are in the wrong room.”

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